Author: Jack Kent (also available by Margaret Read MacDonald, Illustrated by Julie Paschkis)
Puppets: Acted out version: none; Puppet version: woman, 2 men, assorted animals
Props: Big Sheet, Kitty Ears, Pot, Big Scissors, plus hats/ears/puppets/whatever for kids to use
Presenters: Three, plus three to six kids from audience; Just one presenter with puppets works fine
Audience: K-2 (though also excellent for preschool)
Another old favorite that can be done all kinds of ways, we did The Fat Cat for our K-2 Book Adventure on “Food.” Maybe a stretch for our theme, since the cat really eats mostly people and animals (plus gruel), but that's food to him, right?. Margaret Read MacDonald’s version of this is excellent, but we based ours more on the old Jack Kent version, mostly because it’s the one I’ve told most and know best. It's hard to find these days, but worth it. And of course, we adapted freely as we tend to do....
As the Cat, I just wear some kitty ears and have a big orange sheet tucked into my shirt. Terri is the Woman who makes some gruel, and when she leaves Cat alone, he eats the gruel…and the pot too! I tuck the pot under my shirt to give a nice little bulge. When the Woman returns she says the refrain that each victim uses (which means the audience is soon joining in): “My goodness little cat, you are very very fat! What have you been eating?” The response: “Well…..I ate the pot and the gruel, and now I am going to also eat….YOU!” Now I lift up the sheet and the Woman goes under (meaning into the Cat’s stomach). And since the cat is still hungry, off he walks until he meets a…..well, it can be whatever you want. For the next several animals he eats, we used kids from the audience, giving each a mask or puppet. So we go through the exchange again and the Cat swallows the animal, who joins the Woman under the sheet. And on it goes.We had Cat swallow a chicken, then a cow, then, now that the audience has the pattern, three at a time (lion, fox, and gorilla). But really you can use any animals you want. As for the props to go with them, we try not to worry about those too much. Some kids will hold a puppet properly or don a silly chicken hat with great flair; others just want to be up in front of the audience. So we take what we get and don’t let it disrupt the story if they don’t use a prop.
This whole thing could be done with one person, but it’s sure nice to have two or three. As the first one swallowed, Terri was able to manage the kids under the sheet so they stayed pretty well together and fairly quiet. Meanwhile Sheila played the last to arrive a Little Girl with Big Scissors. When Cat brags about who he’s eaten so far: “…and I am also going to eat…YOU!”, Little Girl gets her scissors and cuts open his stomach, so everyone can go back where they belong. And then takes out her sewing kit to stitch him up.
Another way I like to tell this one is using puppets instead of kids. In that approach, I have a big oversized shirt, tucked in, and as the Cat I “swallow” each puppet by stuffing it down into my shirt. The little girl at the end is also a puppet and it’s just a matter of unbuttoning the shirt to let everyone out. Also, when I tell it without kids I have Cat swallow a couple people, using the names from the Jack Kent book: Skohottentot and Skolinkenlot. These names are just so much fun to say and to hear. I don’t know why, but they are. And since they’re the first ones swallowed after the Woman, you get to say them a lot. I thought the acted out version we did with the kids was very successful and everyone enjoyed it, but afterwards I just had this nagging feeling that something hadn’t gone right, and that was it: we didn’t have a Skottentot or a Skolinkenlot. They will return in future versions I’m sure….